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First-Time Product Manager Challenges: What’s the Hardest Part of Being a Product Manager?

Being a first-time Product Manager comes with plenty of challenges. It’s a tough role, and it can be intimidating for those who are just getting into it. One must be equipped with soft skills and communication, testing one’s initiative in building successful relationship management and proving a sense of leadership in a team. How can you overcome and manage pushbacks from stakeholders? 

We interviewed one of our former members Rashid Emranoor, a former investment associate at a non-profit organization who is five months into the job as a first-time Product Manager.  

Rashid explains what it’s like for newcomers in the industry and how he is navigating the first-time Product Manager challenges of the job. 

What’s the Hardest Part of Being a First-Time Product Manager? 

No matter the level of experience, stakeholder pushback is one of the biggest challenges Product Managers face. From Rashid’s experience so far, it’s no different for the first-time Product Manager. 

“Sometimes ​​there’s a huge division on the agendas that the Product Managers have and the those of the engineering team,” he says of his job at Northwestern Mutual. “The agenda for a Product Manager is high level, versus that of an engineer which is much more granular. A Product Manager thinks about the broad business vision, product goals, setting certain OKRs [objectives and key results] and metrics. Although engineers also have their OKRs and metrics, they’re more focused on what is more logical: What is the next big thing that we can work on, and why am I working on it?”  

How Do You Work with Engineers, Coming from a Non-Technical Background? 

According to Rashid, these different agendas can cause friction, especially when there is a different perspective on the scope of a task and timelines to complete it. Having come from a non-technical background, he relies on emotional intelligence and getting everyone on the same page to move things forward. 

He does this by: 

Sharing Business Objectives and Product Vision

Showing engineers how the day-to-day tasks tie into the broader business and product goals can help them understand why they are required. 

Communicating Constantly 

Keeping the communication lines open with your engineers will help you empathize with them. Rashid says he encourages their feedback and seeks out their opinion to influence his day-to-day tasks. Giving the technical team a voice is essential to getting true buy-in from them. 

Getting Engineers Involved From Early On 

“Engineers will be more invested in a project if they know why they are doing it,” says Rashid. “Let them know what the big initiatives are and what the company is trying to achieve in [Quarter] 1, Q2, Q3, Q4. Once they have that idea in their head they will understand the reason for their day-to-day tasks and what’s coming up in the future.”

The Importance of Product Management Soft Skills and Communication 

All the strategies above have worked well for Rashid when it comes to working through pushback. One example is where he faced a challenge with a new feature he wanted to add to the company website. 

The engineer he was working with was hesitant to build the product as it was time and labor-intensive and he wasn’t sure it was important to the business. Rashid decided to take the engineers’ concerns back to the product team, who in turn gave him reasons the feature was required and data to support it. However, it was not an urgent requirement at the time and so he was able to make a judgment on the production timelines.

This information not only gave the engineer clarity on why the feature was needed but also eased the pressure off him. At the end of the day empathy and proper communication created a more positive and productive environment. 

How to Build a Healthy Working Relationship with Your Team, as a First-Time PM 

Many first-time PMs that don’t come from a technical background tend to focus too much time on gaining technical skills when developing the skills to create positive relationships among the team is much more important for success.  

Again, Rashid relies on communication to ensure everything flows smoothly at his job. “Communication puts our engineers at ease at all times. They also inform me of where they are in the progress [with a project],” he says. “This helps with outlining proper timelines to avoid making anyone on the team feel overwhelmed.”

Establishing a friendly rapport with team members is another way Rashid ensures a healthy environment. Working in the investment field highlighted the importance of building a relationship and empathizing with clients, and he brings this to his job as a tool to deal with some of the first-time Product Manager challenges he faces.

According to him, creating a friendly atmosphere between himself and the technical team has made a huge difference in their working relationship. “An engineer will feel freer to tell you what’s on their mind if you have created a rapport with them,” he says.  

What Does the Leadership Role of a Product Manager Look Like?

On leadership, Rashid constantly refers back to his Product Gym training: “Something I learned PG was that as a Product Manager you’re not out there to delegate anyone. You’re there to be a mentor or a coach — the guide who shows the team the product vision or picture. That’s one thing I took that I really hold dear to my heart apply that to my day-to-day,” he says. 

Letting the team know why they’re doing what they’re doing in relation to the bigger picture helps them understand how the pieces fit into the grand scheme of things. This is more effective than just delegating work for the sake of it. 

What Do You Need to Keep in Mind When Managing Pushback From Stakeholders? 

According to Rashid, dealing with pushback, one of the most common first-time Product Manager challenges, comes down to the bigger picture. Setting a clear vision and establishing priorities helps to align everyone involved, whether that be the technical team or external vendors. 

How does one do this? Presenting data and facts. The best Product Managers always provide evidence in numbers and facts for why a task needs to be done. Clear evidence supporting an initiative brings everyone in the team on board. 

Watch the full interview with Rashid in the video below: 

We’re Here to Help You On Your Product Management Career Path 

Being a Product Manager is a challenging but fulfilling role where you get to lead your team from the starting line all the way to the finish. 

Join our PM career acceleration program to learn how to successfully navigate not only the role but also land the best position for you. Schedule a free consultation with our admissions team to learn if Product Gym is right for you!